Wednesday, May 8, 2013
How to fix the L.A. teams
By Jim Bowden
No, it isn’t a very happy time in Southern California.
SoCal fans just watched as the Lakers and Clippers got bounced out of the NBA playoffs in the first round, while the Dodgers and Angels have looked like they might not even make the playoffs.
Coming into 2013, both Los Angeles baseball teams boasted the largest payrolls in their respective divisions, hoping big offseason spending meant getting to the postseason. And on paper, their rosters are good enough to make the playoffs. However, both teams have been beset by injury and ineffectiveness, and as a result, postseason appearances are hardly assured. However, it’s not too late for the L.A. teams to save their seasons, although both clubs will have to make some major adjustments between now and the July 31 trade deadline.
Here’s why both the Angels and Dodgers are struggling and how they can turn their seasons around:
In addition, the left side of the diamond has been a major disappointment. Shortstop Hanley Ramirez was lost to a major hamstring injury and Justin Sellers has hovered around the Mendoza Line in his place. Meanwhile, third baseman Luis Cruz has been equally bad.
How to fix them: Honestly, the Dodgers should focus more on the next three to five years rather than this year’s team, though GM Ned Colletti has traditionally not been shy about making deals in order to win now at the expense of the future. In 2008, he traded catcher Carlos Santana to the Cleveland Indians for veteran third baseman Casey Blake -- a deal that worked in the short term, but Santana has since developed into a bona fide slugger, while Blake has retired.
So far it's been a rough ride for Kemp and the Dodgers.
With a strong core of veteran players in their prime like Clayton Kershaw, Greinke, Matt Kemp, Gonzalez and Carl Crawford already in place, the Dodgers should spend this season’s deadline fortifying that core, rather than trading for more stop-gap players for a wobbly playoff run.
For example, the club could shop outfielder Andre Ethier to the New York Mets, who desperately need outfield and middle-of-the-order help. Deal him for prospects, then flip those to the Houston Astros for 23-year-old second baseman Jose Altuve. Second base is the Dodgers' biggest long-term hole, and Altuve is a .300 hitter with great character and energy who would look great hitting behind Crawford at the top of the lineup. While the Astros are rebuilding, they have shown a willingness to trade anyone if they can add depth to their farm system.
No matter what, the Dodgers should be looking to move Ethier to acquire some depth and open up right field for prospect Yasiel Puig, who, despite immaturity issues (including his arrest last week for speeding and reckless driving), is the Dodgers’ long-term answer in right field and will eventually give them one of the most athletic speed/power outfield combinations in baseball.
Step 2 would be to poke the San Diego Padres to see what it would take to acquire third baseman Chase Headley. Here Colletti could better use his farm system (outside of Puig or Zach Lee) to deal for a 28-year-old switch-hitter and Gold Glover who is just hitting his prime. Headley would replace Ethier and his left-handed power in the middle of the lineup. Of course, Headley would have to be signed to a long-term contract, but we know the Dodgers have money to spend.
As much as the Dodgers spent over the past couple of years, it's clear this is still an incomplete team. Instead of trying to put Band-Aids on this year's club, Colletti should be looking to build a sustainable winner.
Pitching, pitching and pitching. The Angels simply don’t have enough of it and play in a division with the Texas Rangers, who are a much better team.
This problem can be traced back to a deal made by former Angels GM Tony Reagins in 2010. Like Colletti, Reagins was never afraid to deal prospects to win now. He traded pitching prospects Patrick Corbin, Tyler Skaggs and major leaguers Joe Saunders and Rafael Rodriguez to the Arizona Diamondbacks for starter Dan Haren. The trade still haunts the Angels nearly two years after Reagins was fired. If Corbin were in their rotation now with Skaggs on deck at Triple-A, the Angels might be the favorites to win their division.
The big difference in the AL West is the farm systems. Just see how both teams dealt with the loss of their Opening Day starters. The Rangers lost Matt Harrison to a back injury, while the Angels’ Jered Weaver suffered a fractured left elbow. However, the Rangers were able to bring up right-hander Justin Grimm, who went on to win April AL Rookie of the Month. The Rangers’ farm system also provided three other young pitchers who have helped their first-place start -- Nick Tepesch, Tanner Scheppers and Joe Ortiz. Contrast that production with the tepid combination of Garrett Richards and Jerome Williams, which has failed the Angels.
How to fix them: The Angels’ bullpen is loaded with power arms such as Kevin Jepsen, Michael Kohn and Richards. Angels GM Jerry Dipoto did a good job last season, acquiring Ernesto Frieri from the Padres. Frieri converted 23 of 26 save opportunities last year and has never had an ERA above 2.71 in his five years in the major leagues. He pounds the strike zone and misses bats with pinpoint command, something the aforementioned young trio does not possess. That has been a problem.
When Weaver went down, the Angels had no one to replace him.
But there has to be a team that would trade a reliever with less stuff but better command and control for one of those power arms. While closer Ryan Madson continues to regain form after Tommy John surgery, lefties Sean Burnett and Scott Downs will soon return from the DL, so the Angels’ bullpen woes could be solved in a hurry.
To address their dearth of starting pitching, however, Dipoto should give up top hitting prospect C.J. Cron -- currently at Double-A -- for a solid mid-rotation starter such as Tampa Bay Rays right-hander Jeremy Hellickson. I've seen Cron play a few times and I see a 30-homer guy who will be cost effective for years. And with Albert Pujols and Mark Trumbo in place, there is nowhere for him to play in Anaheim. The Rays need offense and have plenty of pitching, so if it's not Hellickson, it could be any number of arms.
If the Angels can use Cron to get a decent starter, I could see them going on a torrid stretch once Pujols, Hamilton and Trout all get going, which we know will happen.
As the Los Angeles teams currently stand, there is little chance either team will make the postseason. That doesn't mean they should give up on the season, but they both must not forget the future or risk making a panic move for the present.